A convoluted and anachronistic prequel to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, Rick Elice’s play never lives up to JM Barrie’s masterpiece. Or flies anywhere near it. Set in Victorian times, it sees Molly, an insufferable 13-year-old who is right about everything and has no friends at school, set out with her father on a secret mission on behalf of Queen Victoria. Along the way she meets three orphans – one of whom becomes Peter Pan – and defeats pirates in a tale of derring-do.
Sadly, Elice never makes up his mind what his play wants to be or who it’s for, and the result is tonal mayhem hitched to an absurdly complicated story that is unlikely to satisfy either adults or children. Sometimes it uses a third-person narrator and sometimes not; often it operates like a panto and then drifts towards melodrama. Occasionally there are songs but it’s not a musical, and it mixes the facetious with the sentimental.
Director Luke Sheppard throws everything at it and there are some nice touches, including crocodile jaws fashioned from a stepladder and umbrellas forming a jungle canopy on Neverland. But like the writing, which lacks the wit, joy and sadness of Barrie’s original, it often feels strenuous, and the largely all-male cast (one female to 11 men: why?) work overtime to keep the show afloat as it moves towards the barely earned tear-jerking finale. Less an awfully big adventure and more a toothless croc.
• At Royal and Derngate, Northampton, until 31 December. Box office: 01604 624811.